Head and Neck Cancer

What is Head and Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancer involves the tissues of the head and neck. These may be primary, i.e., start in the head or neck, or secondary, i.e., spread to the neck or neck from other organs. They begin from the salivary gland, sinuses, muscles, or nerves. These cancers most commonly occur in the squamous cell, which is present in the linings of the head and neck. Squamous cell cancer is more often related to the history of smoking and exposure to the Human Papillomavirus.

Overall, Asia, particularly India, accounts for 57.5 percent of global head and neck malignancies. In India, head and neck cancers accounted for 30% of all malignancies. Patients in India have advanced disease in 60 to 80 percent of cases, compared to 40 percent in developed countries.

Medica’s oncology department excels in providing world-class cancer treatment driven by their collective clinical excellence of over 30+ years. With a multidisciplinary approach to treating all types and forms of cancer, our oncologists and onco-surgeons are supported by the latest cancer treatment technologies along with a team of highly-skilled reconstructive surgeons who deliver extensive treatment to all of our patients, adults and children alike.

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    Head and neck cancer may be of the following types:

    Cancers of the Oral Cavity

    It includes the lips, the front two-third part of the tongue, the gums, the inner lining of inner cheeks, and the bony part or hard palate. It occurs primarily due to excessive use of tobacco or smoking.

    Pharyngeal Cancer

    The pharynx is a hollow tube about 4-5 inches long that extends from behind the nose and to the esophagus. This type of cancer occurring in the throat region is known as oropharyngeal cancer. It occurs in the back of the mouth, the base of the tongue, and the tonsil region.

    Laryngeal Cancer

    This type of cancer is found in the larynx located just below the pharynx in the neck. The vocal cord is present in the larynx, which produces the voice when air is directed towards it. Due to this cancer, the voice of a person changes.

    Nasopharyngeal Cancer

    It is a type of cancer in which cancer cells are found in the nasopharynx tissue. It is the upper part of the throat located just behind the nose.

    Salivary Gland Cancer

    This cancer affects the salivary glands. The salivary gland is the gland that produces saliva in the mouth, which helps to dissolve the food. Salivary glands are also found in the upper part of the digestive tract.

    Squamous Cell Neck Cancer

    These are the thin, flat cells found on the surface of the skin, the lining of the body organ, and the respiratory tract. Cancer spreads from its original sites to the lymph nodes in the neck and the collar bone.

    Soft Tissue Carcinoma

    It is the type of disease in which cancerous cells are found in the soft parts of the head and neck, such as muscles, connective tissue, vessels that carry blood and lymph, joints, and fat.


    The head and neck cancer symptoms depend upon the organ affected and the stage of the disease. However, some of the symptoms are:

    • Oral Cavity: White and red patches on the gums, tongue and the inner lining of the mouth may occur. Sometimes unusual bleeding in the gums and pain can also occur in the mouth.
    • Throat: Difficulty in swallowing, pain in neck and throat which takes much time to heal. Ringing in the ear and difficulty in hearing may also occur.
    • Voicebox: The person may feel difficulty in speaking. He may also experience pain in the ear.
    • Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity: Sinuses are blocked, and chronic sinus infection occurs, which does not respond to antibiotics treatment. Bleeding through the nose and frequent headaches may occur.
    • Salivary Gland: The patients may also have swelling under the chin and around the jaw bone.
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    The exact reasons why these cancers develop is unknown. However, researchers believe that head and neck cancer can be caused due to excessive use of tobacco and alcohol, primarily when cancer affects the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypo-pharynx, and larynx region. In addition, the human Papillomavirus is also a cause of head and neck cancer.

    Other Risk Factors

    The risk factor of head and neck cancer are:

    • Pan (Betel Nut): This can be responsible for causing oral cancer.
    • Consuming Preserved or Salty Food: Consumption of various preserved and salted food can be responsible for nasopharyngeal cancer.
    • Poor Oral Health: Poor oral health and poor dental health may cause oral cancer.
    • Occupational Exposure: People who are more often exposed to wood dust can develop larynx cancer.
    • Radiation Exposure: Radiation to the neck and head can cause salivary gland cancer.
    • Epstein Barr Infection: Exposure to viruses such as Epstein Barr infection may be the causative factor for nasopharyngeal and salivary gland cancer.
    • Family History: The person might have a chance of developing cancer if someone in the family had head and neck cancer.

    Oral Health

    Oral Health

    Proceessed Food

    Proceessed Food

    Radiation Hazard

    Radiation Hazard

    Family History

    Family History

    Epstein Barr Infection

    Epstein Barr Infection

    Occupational Hazard

    Occupational Hazard


    The following are the phases of head and neck cancer:

    Stage 0: This is the very beginning of the scale, also known as carcinoma in situ. It refers to aberrant cells in the affected area’s lining that have the potential to become cancerous.

    Stage I:The term “stage I” refers to a very early stage of cancer. The tumor is only two millimeters in diameter. The cancer hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes yet.

    Stage II: A tumor that is greater than two centimeters but not more than four centimeters is classified as Stage II. The lymph nodes have not been affected by stage II malignancy.

    Stage III:Stage III head and neck cancer refers to tumors that are more than four centimeters in diameter or that have spread to a lymph node on the same side of the neck as the tumor and are less than three centimeters in diameter.

    Stage IV: The most advanced stage of head and neck cancer is Stage IV. The tumor could be any size, but it has expanded to the following areas:

    • A neighboring tissue or other head and neck locations.
    • One large lymph node (more than three centimeters in diameter) on the same side of the neck as the tumor, many lymph nodes of any size on the same side of the neck as the tumor, or one lymph node of any size on the side of the neck opposite the tumor.
    • Has spread to regions of the body other than the head and neck, including the lungs

    When head and neck cancer is initially discovered, it may be at stage IV. Recurrent head and neck cancer is a possibility in stage IV head and neck cancer. The term “recurrent” refers to a cancer that has returned following treatment. The cancer may return in the same area of the body where it first appeared (regional recurrence), in the lymph nodes (regional relapse), or in a different portion of the body (regional relapse) (distant recurrence).


    If diagnosed in the early stages, head and neck cancer have a good outcome. During diagnosis, your physician may order a diagnostic test and perform a physical examination.

    These tests and exams may include:

    • Physical Examination: In a physical exam, the physician might check the health of the oral and nasal cavity. He may also look for lumps on the neck, lips, and gums.
    • Diagnostics Test: The doctor may also advise the following tests in case he is convinced that there might be head or neck cancer:
      • Endoscopy for voice box, throat, and nasal cavity evaluation.
      • Blood test
      • Urine test
      • Head and neck X-ray
      • CT- scans
      • MRI
      • Biopsy
      • Pee test
      • HPV test
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    The head and neck cancer treatment depends on the following situations:

    • Location of cancer
    • Stage of cancer
    • Age and overall health of the patient

    The following procedures are done during the treatment of cancer-

    Surgery: During this procedure, the doctor removes the cancerous tumour. If cancer has spread in the surrounding lymph nodes, the doctor may also remove the lymph nodes.

    Radiation: The doctor kills the cancerous cells by using high-energy radiation. However, radiation therapy may have the risk of damaging the other tissues.

    Chemotherapy: Several drugs kill the cancerous cells by interfering with their growth and division. The doctor administers these drugs during the chemotherapy regimen. The chemotherapy involves several cycles of drug administration.

    Target therapy: The drugs targets protein, genes, and other vital processes of cancer cells.

    Immunotherapy: With this therapy, the doctor boosts the immune system, which can help to fight against cancer.


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